I am currently learning to live in accordance with the time-tested ancient Indian lifestyle system called Ayurveda, The Science of Life, and it has given me my life back both physically and mentally. You can read more about my journey here.
Unlike Western medicine, Ayurveda is a fully holistic mind-body system. You don’t go to one doctor for mental health (e.g. depression) and another one for physical health (e.g. skin issues) like in the West. Your issues – both mental and physical – are very much related.
Ayurveda believes that food is medicine. What you do and eat matters both physically and mentally. When your mind is out of sync, your body will be too and vice versa.
The ancient “rishis” or seers who came up with this lifestyle system did so by simply meditating and observing nature. You will start observing the same things if you start meditating and watching nature too! That’s the beautify and power of Ayurveda!
They observed that animals and plants all have a schedule – they follow the same routine with the day and with the seasons.
As humans, we are not separate from nature. We can pretend like we are… Stay up late with lights, watch TV, sleep in on weekends, eat chemical foods. But all of these things that go against our nature, the same nature behind the animals and the plants, our circadian rhythm as Western science has recently discovered, will add up to detrimental health – both physical and mental.
If you’re serious about taking back control of your full health, the rishis and their followers provide the below guidelines to follow on a daily basis.
By following these basic rules, you will start on the path of feeling energized, happy, healthy, and live a much more meaningful life in the long term. This most likely is not going to be easy for you, but nobody can take this truly healing journey for you. There is no easy pill for your life. It’s up to you.
If you’d like to learn more from the experts, I highly recommend the books Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom: A Complete Prescription to Optimize Your Health, Prevent Disease, and Live with Vitality and Joy and Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life: How to Harness the Power of Clock Genes to Lose Weight, Optimize Your Workout, and Finally Get a Good Night’s Sleep.
Please note that I’m in no way an expert myself – I just read a lot of books on the topic and I know it works from self-experimentation (it is called the science of life after all!). I highly recommend trying a few of these out, and if they work, read more from the experts! This is just a short summary of what I learned from a very ancient and amazing ancient science that has a lot more intricacies within it:
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “You are what you eat”. Well, in Ayurveda the guiding principle is “You are what you digest”. You can eat a healthy snack, but if your body can’t digest it properly, it becomes a toxin nonetheless.
If you’re not eliminating at least once a day (ideally in the morning), something is not right with your body/mind. If you have constipation or diarrhea, you are sick. If you ignore these digestive warning signs and just live with it, you’re on your way to becoming a lot more sick. It’s much better to solve the problem in it’s mild don’t-need-a-doctor stage…
And when your digestion is compromised, so is your mind. How nice and understanding can you be to other humans when you have severe constipation?
Likewise, when your mind is sick, your body can easily become sick. Have you ever had a stomach issue after getting very upsetting news? Or gotten sick when you were sad or depressed?
The below lifestyle guidelines help optimize digestion – of both body and mind. As you follow these guidelines, monitor your stool (I know, kind of awkward!) – both when it happens and what it looks like day to day. You can google “bristol stool chart” to understand what it means and read one of the Ayurveda books for more details. It’ll tell you a lot!
The Daily Clock
Western scientists are only now discovering what Ayurveda followers have known for thousands of years – the importance of following the circadian rhythm, your body’s 24-hour internal clock that is responsible for controlling what happens to your body throughout the day. You can read a lot more about modern scientific research on this topic in Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life.
The main point is that your internal clock works best if it syncs with the external natural clock. Having problems sleeping? Having problems waking up in the morning? Having digestive issues? Having mental fog? Need coffee to stay awake throughout the day? Gaining weight for no reason? These are all potential consequences of not following the natural rhythm.
So what is this rhythm?
- 4:00 AM – 6:00 AM This is the best time to wake up. You’ll notice that this is around the time when the birds start singing! If you wake up at this time, you will have a much easier time waking up in general. Have you ever slept in past this time and felt groggy? Maybe every morning? Do you have issues with your irregular bowel movements? Wake up at this time and feel the refreshing difference! Bonus points: watch the sunrise.
- 6:00 AM – 10:00 AM You will feel heaviness at this time of day. You’ll be tempted to go back to sleep if you woke up earlier to watch the sunrise. If you wake up during this time, it’ll be hard and you’ll be groggy. Instead, use this to your advantage and exercise! It is best to exercise before breakfast. At this time, your digestion is just waking up, just like the rest of your body, so eat a very light breakfast by 8:00 AM. Just fruit or a small bowl of oatmeal should do the trick.
- 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM Your digestion is all fired up! Try to eat lunch close to noon or earlier. Make this your biggest meal of the day! If you like to eat heavy foods like meat, eat them now.
- 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM This is the time of day when you’re most creative. Use this to your advantage for work. Avoid eating if possible. If you’re very hungry, eat some fruit or nuts.
- 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM Your digestion slows down and your body starts to wind down and become heavy. Eat a very light dinner – a vegetable soup will do closer to 6:00pm or even slightly earlier and avoid eating anything else after dinner. Eating before dark is ideal. This is the best time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Avoid screen time during this time – this tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daylight. Go to sleep by 10:00 PM at the latest. It’ll be hard to fall asleep after that.
- 10:00 PM – 2:00 AM This time brings the fire back into your body. Have you ever gotten a “second wind” at 11:00 PM when you were out late. Or craved a midnight snack? It’ll be very hard to fall asleep during this time as your body is alert. This is why so many people think they are “night owls”. In reality, this time is very important during sleep as it helps your body digest everything from the day.
Note that to optimize your body using this routine and reap the benefits, you have to follow it every single day. Your body does not know that it’s the weekend, so it’s ok to sleep in…
If you don’t follow anything else from this article, make following this Daily Clock a priority! It’s that important.
“The spirit is always pure, taintless; yet the body benefits from regular cleansing. So why not make cleansing the body a ritual worthy of the majestic spirit that you are?” ~ Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom
Outside of just brushing teeth and showering, Ayurveda recommends additional cleansing routines to your morning ritual. I call it specifically “ritual” here, because once you add some of these, it’ll become a special time of day, not just something you have to rush through before going to work:
The Tongue Scraper
“The tongue is a major absorber of pure chee from food and drink, which it detects as ‘flavor’ and extracts by prolonged contact during salivation and mastication of food in the mouth. Ever wonder what happens to the “flavor” of food chewed for a long time? It is the most volatile element in food, and it can be absorbed only in the mouth.
Those who bolt down their food in half-chewed lumps miss not only the flavor but also the purest form of its energy. Many people miss this flavor and energy even if they do chew well, because their overall dietary habits and internal pollution leave a perpetual sticky film on their tongues.
To remove this film from your tongue, simply scrape the tongue’s surface from back to front with the edge of an ordinary teaspoon. You’ll find a foamy white or yellow residue in the spoon, which is invisible when spread out over the tongue. This residue clogs the taste buds and leaves a constant sour taste in the mouth. Scrape the tongue clean each time you brush your teeth, and you will not only enhance your tongue’s ability to absorb chee from food and drink, but you’ll also increase its capacity to savor flavors.”
It might sound weird at first, but once you do this, it’ll be hard to go back! Who wants to keep all that bacteria in their mouth for breakfast?!! Yuk!
I highly recommend getting a silver or copper tongue scraper. I use this one from Amazon.
“Oil pulling involves taking a comfortable dose (1 to 2 tablespoons for adult mouths and 1 to 2 teaspoons for children) of liquid into the mouth to gargle. As you gargle, make intentional swishing and pulling movements so that oil touches all surfaces inside the mouth and also penetrates between the teeth. Make this dynamic but keep it gentle; don’t work too hard. The oil will have its effect.
Gargle long enough for the oil to become frothy and lighter in color (which happens when oil particles mix with saliva and air bubbles) — typically one to three minutes.
The gargling liquid can be sesame oil — which, as I’ve said, is highly recommended — or it can be any other fluid recommended by Ayurveda. The liquid’s temperature can be room temperature in the warmer months or slightly warm during the cooler months.”
Benefits of oil pulling include building immunity, improving your voice, reducing the count of microorganisms, plaque, and plaque-induced gingivitis, and I’m sure others. You can google it to find a lot more information on it!
The Neti Pot
“By far the best way to keep your nose clean and your nasal passages clear and unobstructed is to give yourself a regular nasal douche, known in yoga lore as the ‘neti.’ The neti nasal douche is a particularly important form of hygiene for deep breathers, especially in this age of air pollution, smoking, and mucus-forming diets.
The neti loosens and flushes away encrustations of dried mucus; dissolves and expels dust, grease, and other pollutants; and thoroughly washes the sensitive olfactory endings, enhancing their capacity to extract and assimilate chee from air.”
Ok, this one is a bit difficult to get started with… It is weird and difficult to conceptualize that water should go into one nostril and come out the other, but eventually, after some practice, you’ll be able to do it!
Make sure to use pure salt – there are neti part salt solutions online and distilled water.
“daily Ayurvedic massage seems to effectively release emotional tension, discharge pent-up memories, and leave you feeling cheerful, optimistic, and deeply relaxed.”
Now, this is the really fun and indulgent one! Just rub warm black sesame oil (or another recommended Ayurvedic oil) all over your body. Focus on your head (including face), ears, and feet. I use this Organic Cold-Pressed Black Sesame Oil.
After oiling, take a warm shower to let the body soak in the oil even more, but avoid washing your head with the hot water. Finish the shower with cold water after you wash the oil off your body with soap first. Use the cold water to wash the oil from your head and face. It’s very refreshing!
Just keep in mind that the oil massage releases toxins from your body. So don’t do it on rainy days or any time your digestion is compromised or when you have a cold or another sickness. Basically, avoid it whenever your body needs to heal and can’t handle the extra toxins.
I’ve been doing this message almost every day as part of my morning routine for a few weeks now, and it instantly became one of my favorite parts of the day. I can’t imagine living without it. It’s like I was a rusty Tin Man this whole time, and suddenly I discovered oil! Seriously, that is how it feels. My body is more flexible, it’s glowing, and healing – immediately.
When you eat is almost as important (if not more!) than what you eat. In Ayurveda, eating timing and quantity is optimized for digestion. Remember, you are what you digest!
Upon waking up, drink warm ginger water. This will fire up your digestion and help you eliminate. Try not to eat until 3 hours after waking up. Your body (and digestion) needs time to start moving. Instead, use this time for your cleansing rituals, exercise, and meditation.
Reminder to wake up at dawn (4 – 5 AM), so you would have the 3 hours to do all these things and eat breakfast before 8:00 AM!
Since your body is still firing up in the morning, eat a small breakfast – a piece of fruit in the summer or a small bowl of warm oatmeal in the colder months would work well.
This is when your body is fully fired up and your digestion is going at full speed. It is important to eat lunch as close to noon (or slightly earlier) as possible to really take advantage of your body’s rhythm.
Eat the biggest meal of the day at this time.
If you eat meat, eat it at this meal. Lunch is the most important meal of the day – not breakfast! Do not skip it or you’ll be hungry later on.
Your body is slowing down at this time, preparing for sleep. Make dinner super light – a vegetable soup or steamed vegetables would do.
Eat as close to 6:00 PM as possible to have at least 3 hours for your body to digest the food before sleep. During the night, your digestion comes to a halt, so anything you eat after that timeframe will not digest well, no matter how healthy.
Your body needs time to digest each meal. So fasting in between each meal is ideal. Avoid the snacks! However, if you are hungry, grab a few nuts or fruits.
Did you know that if certain foods are eaten together, they’re harder to digest? Think back to chemistry class – remember how two inert chemicals mixed together can create explosions?
Unfortunately, most of American foods, including healthy ones! break these combinations. While in other countries these rules are more or less part of the cultural wisdom of local foods, in America, the cultural wisdom comes from advertising and movies.
Some surprising highlights include:
- If you eat meat, make sure to eat it with vegetables only. No pasta or rice or other grains. If you really want grains, eat them with vegetables only and eat meat another day (you don’t need meat every single day – your body can make protein from grains and vegetables).
- Eat fruit alone. After your bigger meal has had some time to digest. This is why it’s good for snacking. 30 minutes before a meal is a great time to eat it.
- Yogurt + berries are a really bad / toxic combination. Eat yogurt on its own. Eat the berries on their own.
- Dairy and Meat are a really bad combination. This one is so bad, it’s written into some religious laws. That is one of the big staples around eating Kosher in the Jewish religion.
- Eggs + Toast is a bad combination. This connects to why you shouldn’t eat meat and grains. Protein + grains is a bad combination. Eat toast with vegetables. Eat Eggs with vegetables. Don’t mix them.
- Burgers are really bad – again, meat + bread. Cheeseburgers are extra bad as they break the no dairy + meat rule.
Eat Good Fat
American diets really hate on fat, but in fact, your body needs fat for digestion and optimizing bodily functions. In Indian food, clarified butter called Ghee is considered the best fat you can eat.
In Ayurvedic texts, they pronounce that “Ghee is life” – that’s how important it is! When eaten in right amounts, although it’s fat, it’ll actually help you lose weight!
Good news! Unlike olive oil and other health oils, ghee is YUMI!! It tastes like real butter, but without the side effects. It is lactose and casein free. So if you have a bad reaction to other dairy products, you’ll likely still be able to tolerate (and enjoy!) ghee!
I love the Eat Good Fat brand. Seriously, it’s so good, I always lick the spoon! I would never want to touch olive oil on it’s own like that…
- Avoid dessert, but if you really want dessert, eat it slightly before your lunch at noon ideally! when your digestion can best handle it. Never after lunch.
- Ice cream is really bad as the cold chills your liver and slows down digestion. Only eat it at noon on a super hot summer day when you could use some cooling down.
- Avoid overeating. Eat so your stomach is ½ full with food, ¼ full with liquid, and ¼ empty. Never eat so much that your chest hurts and you can barely breathe or move.
- Eat slowly. Chew really really well. Avoid doing other things while eating, like talking or watching TV.
- Use Himalayan salt – rock salt is better than sea salt
- If you drink milk, heat it first. Do not drink raw. Great to drink before going to sleep. Heat it and make it spiced, add ghee and honey.
- Raw foods/salads have more nutrients but are harder to digest. So it’s good to cook the vegetables a little, especially in ghee.
- Eat freshly cooked food. Those frozen dinners are no good.
- Eat seasonally – nature gives us exactly what we need at each time of year! Berries are cooling, for example. They’re great in the summer when they grow, but not so great in the winter when you need more warming foods.
- Avoid junk food blah blah blah.. you know this part… Eat fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy whole grains, etc.
Finally, food is supposed to make you feel good, energized, ready to take on the world!
Not tired, fatigued, and unable to focus. This one was a big surprise for me personally – the food I was (over)eating was making me feel horrible! If that’s how food is making you feel, you’re eating the wrong things.
Pretty much everything you know about drinking from America is wrong.
Ice in drinks (including juice & water) is horrible for you. It chills the liver and makes it hard for your body to digest food. Instead, drink warm water. Ideally, boil it and let it cool down to warm or room temperature.
Even in juice shops, they use frozen fruits and vegetables and combine them with ice. If you like juices or smoothies, make them yourself by leaving the ingredients out overnight so they are room temperature and make the drinks without any ice.
The “8 glasses per day” rule is likely something marketed by the water bottle industry. Some people need more water, some need less. It also varies for you by season (summer is hot and will make you more thirsty for example!) and even time of day.
The best rule is to drink when you’re thirsty – let your body tell you how much to drink! Don’t force the 8 glasses per day just because that’s what you’re told.
Finally, don’t drink right before and right after a meal. That messes with the digestion of the meal.
Good news, you probably don’t need as much exercise as you think you do! One size does not fit all. Some people need gentler exercise and some need harsher exercise. It also varies seasonally – late fall and early winter is a much better season for pushing yourself in your workouts.
More importantly, it’s when you exercise! Early in the morning when you wake up before breakfast is the ideal time. The second best time is in the early evening around 6:00 PM.
Just like with food, exercise is supposed to make you feel good afterward! I used to exercise intensely almost every day and wonder why it wasn’t working – instead of the promises of exercise making me feel more invigorated, it made me exhausted and exasperated my skin problems.
If you’re feeling fatigued, consider cutting back, replacing a few intense workouts with gentle yoga. I know, I know, you’re supposed to push past the pain! But that’s not always true. Work with your body here.
In addition to one bigger workout in the morning – again, this could be just 30 minutes of movement to get your body to wake up for the day! – do gentler exercise throughout the day.
It’s highly recommended to walk a little bit after each meal – just a 100 steps is fine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go outside for a moment of break (instead of getting coffee or unhealthy vending machine snacks), soak in the sunshine, stretch your body after sitting in a chair working.
While all these guidelines are a great start to taking charge of your life, the reality is that everyone is unique and needs slightly different things to be healthy. And of course this changes by day, by season, by the stress you have in your life, etc. This is where mindfulness comes in.
Take a moment to check in with yourself multiple times throughout the day. Formal meditation is great for this and highly recommended, but smaller bouts of being present and conscious of the experiences you’re having throughout each day are almost more important.
The secret is that your body already knows what is healthy for you. You don’t need fancy charts or doctors to tell you this. Once you learn how to listen to your body, it’ll start talking to you.
For example, I was told all my life how important meat is. But once a healer gave me permission to be vegan, I went to the grocery store, went to the meat aisle and listened to my body. It didn’t want meat. It’s really easy for me to be vegan because my body doesn’t want meat or dairy. That might not be true for you. But you’ll have similar experiences with some other foods that you’re eating (maybe raw salads?!!) that you were told you need but your body really doesn’t.
Pay attention to what you’re doing and how it’s making you feel. Check in with yourself before you start eating. If you’re angry or worked up, your digestion is probably off. Take a moment to calm down and get back to normal before you start eating.
Eat slowly with no distractions. You might notice that you’re full a lot earlier than you would have thought. Don’t eat the rest of the food just to force yourself to finish the meal. Your body is happy with it.
Check in with yourself after the meal. How do you feel? Are feeling tired, exhausted, fatigued? Then the food you ate might not have been the best choice for you. Change it up for the next day. Notice which foods not only taste good but make you feel good.
Pay attention to your feelings. If you’re angry, take a moment to watch your anger. Maybe this is not the best time to go to a meeting after all.
Pay attention to how your work makes you feel. Is there something your body is resisting doing? Makes you hate your job? That could be a sign that you might need to switch jobs. Or drop that particular project or client because it’s just not working.
The same with bad behaviors and vices. When you consciously notice that you’re doing this bad behavior, start paying attention a bit. How is it making you feel during it and afterward? Maybe you’ll notice that the late-night TV is making you excited and making it harder for you to fall asleep. Or that constantly checking social media makes you sad. It’s much easier to give up the behavior once you pay attention and feel the bad result in your body.
If you’d like to learn more about meditation and mindfulness and yourself, I highly recommend attending one of the FREE 10-day Vipassana meditation courses around the world. Do note that this will likely be one of the hardest experiences of your life, but also one of the most life-changing.
Thank you for reading if you stuck this far! I know it’s a lot of information, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Start with following the daily clock and the rest will slowly follow.
Everything I mentioned is from reading about it. I’m not the expert, I’m a student. So if this peaks your curiosity you’d like to learn more from the experts, I highly recommend the books Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom: A Complete Prescription to Optimize Your Health, Prevent Disease, and Live with Vitality and Joy and Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life: How to Harness the Power of Clock Genes to Lose Weight, Optimize Your Workout, and Finally Get a Good Night’s Sleep.